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Md. leases two ice rinks to serve as temporary morgues

Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall on March 6, 2020. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland has leased two ice rinks to serve as morgues as it prepares for COVID-19 deaths to escalate, state Health Secretary Robert “Bobby” Neall told the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Monday.

“On the grim side, I leased two skating rinks last week for makeshift morgues, so you know what’s coming,” Neall told the regents. Neall is also a member of the board.

Maryland had requested 15,000 body bags from the federal government but received none, according to federal data released last week.

Ninety-one people have died in Maryland so far, according to state numbers.

Modeling suggests Maryland may soon be hitting its peak in the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests the peak could reach about 138 deaths per day on April 19. That forecast is based on full social distancing measures being in place.

The institute projects Maryland will likely see more than 2,300 deaths from the disease by Aug. 1. The forecast projects a range of deaths from the disease between 1,400 and 4,136 by that date.

During his briefing, Neall said the state’s needs boil down to three basic categories: people, places and things.

He expects that the temporary hospital system Maryland is building out will eventually be about three-quarters the size of the state’s permanent hospital system and that it will need more staffing.

He also said that the search for personal protective equipment — which includes masks, gowns and gloves — has been ongoing and an urgent need. Many states are competing with each other in a search for the safety equipment.

“This is the world’s largest scavenger hunt,” Neall said.

He also characterized the lack of available testing kits as “the bane of our existence.” State officials have consistently said they would like to do more testing for the disease but do not have enough testing kits to test more people.

“Our goal is not to be on television looking like New York,” Neall told the regents. “I hope that we will be able to get all of the stuff that we need, organize it in a way so that we can get through this with minimal casualties and our dignity intact.”

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